Sophomore guard Nate Hinton records his seventh double-double of the season in a victory

Cougars win conference opener over UCF

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The University of Houston Men's Basketball team (11-3, 1-0) opened its American Athletic Conference schedule with a 78-63 victory over the UCF Knights (9-5, 0-1), Friday night, inside the Fertitta Center in Houston. With the win, the Cougars extended their winning streak to five, a stretch of games that began with a victory over UTEP and mid-season championship during The Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

"The mindset of our team is to continuously remind ourselves that this is a new season," sophomore guard Nate Hinton said. "Conference is a new beast, and we are taking it one game at a time. To us, every game is a championship game."

While recording his seventh double-double of the season, Hinton scored a game-high 20 points (13 coming in the second half) on 58.3% shooting from the field, 50% from 3-point range. It was an exceptional all-around performance for the 6'5 guard out of Gastonia N.C., as Hinton notched a career-high 16 rebounds, five steals, three assists and a block in the win.

"Nate has just gotten better throughout the season," head coach Kelvin Sampson said. "When I recruited him, I knew from day one he was going to be a captain of this team because he impacts winning in so many different ways. He is a great representative of our program."

After missing two of their first three shots, it did not take long for the Cougars to shake off their holiday rust. Houston embarked on a 7-0 run ignited by freshman guard, Marcus Sasser, who scored five of the Cougars' first seven points following a slow start to the game.

However, a few bad calls and several unlucky buckets gave UCF a three-point lead en route of a 12-0 run late in the first half. Despite their mid-game turnaround, the Knights would not sustain their play as the Cougars took a 37-33 lead into the halftime break.

Although they closed the half connecting on all cylinders, the Cougars came out the gates in the second period struggling to buy a basket. After allowing UCF to come within two, Houston picked up their intensity on the defensive end and held the Knight scoreless for four straight minutes.

During the four-minute span, UCF missed seven consecutive shots and committed four turnovers during Houston's 9-0 run.

Junior forward Fabian White Jr, The Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic Most Outstanding Player, scored 13 points in the win, while Dejon Jarreau recorded 12 points shooting 12-for-14 from the charity stripe. For UCF, the Knights were led by Dazon Ingram who scored a team-high 13 points and Collin Smith who added in 11 in the loss.

Following the win, the Cougars will hit the road to take on the Temple Owls, Tuesday night, inside The Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. Tip-off is slated for 6:00 P.M. CT.

Quick Notes:

  • Freshman guard Caleb Mills left the game early in the second half following an allergic reaction. Coach Kelvin Sampson said after the game Mills is okay and will be ready to go by next game.
  • The Houston Cougars' outscored the Knights 28-15 in bench points.
  • The Cougars out-rebounded the Knights 45-41 in the win.


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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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